Where to Buy a Kayak (For Beginners)


Where to Buy a Kayak

Kayaking draws in thousands of water sports enthusiasts every year. And every year, thousands of beginning kayakers try to figure out where to buy a kayak. There are several factors to keep in mind when you’re looking for the best place to buy a kayak.

Where to buy a kayak? Kayaks can be bought from outdoor recreation stores, sporting goods stores, online retailers, and outdoor outfitters.  Choosing where to buy a kayak depends on your wants, needs, and your budget. Kayaks will have differing costs and overall quality depending on where they are purchased.

In this article, we’ll outline what you should know when buying a kayak, where the best places to buy kayaks are, and the best time of the year to buy a kayak. Plus, we’ll cover specific sales at certain stores to watch out for.

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Where Should You Buy a Kayak

Here’s a quick list of the best places to buy a kayak:

  • Your local kayak shop – If you want expertise and follow-up service, go local, “buy kayaks near me.”
  • Dicks Sporting Goods Pelican, Perception, Lifetime, Vibe kayaks and more, Dicks has several kayak brands for sale that you can choose from.
  • REI – One of the more well-known and premium places to find kayaks
  • Walmart – Walmart kayaks are becoming more and more prevalent. They have a wide array of affordable kayaks.
  • Costco – Every year Costco has a couple of great deals on some pretty good kayaks.
  • Amazon – The 800 pound gorilla of online retailing also has a huge selection of kayak brands for sale.
  • Sportsman’s Warehouse – Hunting, fishing, and yes kayaks.
  • Bass Pro/Cabelas – These stores deal almost exclusively in Ascend Kayaks.

The most convenient places to buy kayaks are traditional department stores and large outdoor recreation stores. Department stores, like Walmart and Dicks Sporting Goods, will often have a good selection of kayaks to choose from, though most will likely be flat water kayaks. White water kayaks are more likely to be available at larger outdoor retail stores such as Bass Pro Shop, REI, or online specialty kayak shops like Colorado Kayak Supply or Austin Kayak.

Many cities also have smaller, independent outdoor recreation shops that specialize in kayaking supplies and kayaks. While some of these shops may not have a wide selection or always have kayaks in stock, they can be a good place to look first if you want to shop locally.

Most larger retailers will also have online catalogs available for buyers to look through and order from if the in-store inventory offers too narrow of a selection. When buying kayaks from an online website, you can take more time to thoroughly examine the qualities and features of the kayak before purchasing. Once ordered, the kayak will likely be delivered to the store for pickup, though some will ship directly to your home if you prefer that. 

Where to Find Cheap Kayaks

Big department/box stores, like Walmart and Costco, are the next best place to go when searching for cheap kayaks. These kayaks may be of lesser quality than the slightly more expensive ones bought at outdoor recreation stores and retailers. However, Costco especially will usually have a good deal on a decent kayak just about every year.

I was able to get a Pelican Mustang 100 from Costco for $150. It was the last one on the floor, the box was damaged, and I’m never afraid to find the manager on the floor and make them an offer. Many times they say yes and you never know until you try, right.

Outdoor retailers like Dicks will likely have the widest selection available. While they may carry pretty expensive models, they’re also likely to have less expensive but high-quality kayaks. So if you plan on paddling frequently, it may be in your best interest to invest a little more in a slightly costly but high-quality kayak. 

Where to Find Used Kayaks

Bar none, the best place for used kayaks is Craigslist. However, beware and prepare, because many people, seeking to offload a kayak they no longer want or can store, are unrealistic about the price they should get for them. In my opinion, in order to make the risk of used kayaks worth it, you need to get at least 30% off of the new retail price of the kayak.

Also, secondhand stores exist in many cities and are a great place to look for used boats in good condition. Used kayaks are likely to always be the cheapest options available for purchase. It is crucial when buying a used boat to thoroughly inspect it for any damage. 

Online marketplaces to sell used goods have become extremely popular on social media platforms such as Facebook. These marketplaces are set up as groups that you have to join and then you can buy and sell products being offered. Depending on where you live, there may be a marketplace with members based in your area that is specifically designated for the buying and selling of used sporting goods. 

Boat rental companies and outfitters are another good place to search. Many outfitters sell off their older boats toward the end of the paddling season to make room for newer boats. This is a great opportunity for you to get a good deal on a used kayak. These sales may be advertised, but the best bet at finding outfitters that sell old boats is to call and ask. 

Where to Buy Kayaks Near Me

If you live in or near a city, you are likely to have many stores to choose from. For those in rural areas, it may require more of a drive to get to a store that carries kayaks.

Keep in mind that kayaks can be ordered online as well. In this case, if there is not a good selection of stores or kayaks available nearby, you can instead turn to online ordering. The one issue with this is not every online retailer will deliver directly to you, so make sure to research whether or not they do before purchasing.

The best approach is to do a quick internet search for department and outdoor recreation stores within the mile radius you are willing to travel. From here, you can search what types of kayaks they have in their inventory and decide which store to go to.

Where to Buy Specialty Kayaks

When buying specialty kayaks, such as white water or fishing kayaks, you may need to find a specialty manufacturer if you have specific type of kayak or use. Otherwise, general versions of these types of kayaks will likely be available at outdoor retailers like REI.

These kayaks may be the kind that the actual sporting store does not have many of in stock since they are not as commonly bought. Thus, this may be an instance where you need to order online and have it delivered to the store.

Ordering online gives you much more choice in terms of variety and features of a specialty kayak. However, one disadvantage is that you will be waiting for a longer period before receiving your kayak. This may not work in your favor if you wish to start paddling as soon as possible.

When to Buy a Kayak

There are some specific times of the year that are widely regarded as the best time to buy kayaks. You can potentially save hundreds of dollars on top-quality kayaks if you wait to purchase at a specific time.

Timing your purchase carefully to get a good deal requires you to know beforehand which stores to watch, at what times of the year, and most importantly the type of kayak you need. You can also research past sales that stores have had to see what kinds of kayak and kayak equipment sales they offer throughout the year. 

Different stores are going to have different types of sales, so it’s important to do some research into several places. In this case, you may find a kayak sale at one place and a deal on accessories such as paddles and life jackets at another.

Holidays

Shopping during the holiday season is always lucrative, thanks to the many holiday sales at brick and mortar retailers. There are a couple of holidays specifically to watch for deals on. They are:

  • Christmas
  • Memorial Day
  • Labor Day.

Christmas sales generally run the majority of the month of December, as people stock up on presents for the gift-giving holiday. This is a great time to look for sales on kayaks and accessories, as there will likely be opportunities to buy both before and after the holiday itself.

Memorial Day is a major holiday for the outdoor recreation world, as many celebrations of the holiday are held outside and involve outdoor sports. Like Christmas, the sales at this time run for longer than just the actual day of the holiday. Most Memorial Day sales tend to run for about a week. 

Labor Day sales are also a good time to buy a kayak. August is the best month for outdoor sales, and with Labor Day only six days into September, these sales line up perfectly for some great deals on kayaks towards the end of August. Like Memorial Day, Labor Day is often a very outdoor-centric holiday.

End of Kayaking Season

August is the biggest month for outdoor recreation sales. This is partly because it is considered the end of the recreational season for many outdoor activities, especially water sports. After August, the weather begins to cool down considerably, making outdoor and water-centric activities less appealing to many people.

For fanatics of paddling, after August may actually be the best time of the year. All the gear they need suddenly goes on sale, and the waterways are much less crowded as people begin to head inside due to the cold. Similarly, right before the beginning of the paddling season is another popular time for avid paddlers and paddling sales.

Kayak manufacturers begin to sell off the product they didn’t sell at full price during the season. This is a good chance to get high-quality kayaks for much less than their original price. Additionally, many outdoor stores offer pre-season sales on paddling goods to get the ball rolling for the season and bring in new customers.

During Store-Specific Sales

Some stores, such as REI, have multiple storewide sales many times throughout the year. Take note of annual and recurring sales that specific stores offer, as these can offer some of the best deals. They are intended to bring attention, good reputation, and extra business to the store.

Knowing about store-specific sales is a crucial part of any outdoorsman’s gear knowledge. While kayaks last for a long time, they still need maintenance from time to time, and gear such as paddles and lifejackets can get worn or damaged and need replacing.

Waiting for a specific sale is a great way to stock up on any new equipment or materials for maintenance you may need.

Aside from the known holidays we’ve covered and the usual end-of-season sales, kayaks go on sale at various other times depending on the store. As we’ve mentioned, store-specific sales can happen annually and be part of the store’s business and marketing model.

Here are five major retailers and the sales they offer:

  1. Bass Pro Shop
  2. Costco
  3. Walmart
  4. REI
  5. Cabela’s

1 – Bass Pro Shop Kayak Sales

Bass Pro Shop is one of the major outdoor retailers in the country. They offer a wide array of outdoor goods and are particularly known for their fishing, hunting, and boating gear. Bass Pro offers several annual storewide clearances. They even have an annual boating sale event. It was held on January 2nd – April 1st last year, and boating sales for 2021 are yet to be announced.

2 – Costco Kayak Sales

Costco is a warehouse-style department store known for its low costs and bulk products. Buying kayaks from Costco is the choice of many because Costco offers kayaks at already low prices year-round. In a sense, kayaks are always on sale here. Costco still offers various sales and savings events throughout the year, though they may not be kayak-specific sales. 

To purchase a kayak from Costco, you have to be a member. Membership rates are relatively low at about $60 per year. A Costco membership is a pretty good bargain, especially if you’re going to shop for groceries and other lower-priced items at the store.

3 – Walmart Kayak Sales

Walmart began selling kayaks in the mid-2010s in their sporting goods department. Walmart has many major sales events throughout the year, including sales events for the sporting goods department specifically.

You can browse the full online catalog of available clearances on kayaks on Walmart’s website. The store is also likely to have major sales around the holidays, which may be the best time to buy kayaks at Walmart.

4 – REI Kayak Sales

Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) is known for offering high-quality outdoor sporting gear and for having a robust paddling department. The biggest storewide clearance that they offer is their Anniversary Sale. This is one of the best opportunities to get a discounted but high-quality kayak.

REI also offers garage sales throughout the year. These garage sales consist of goods that were returned but are in moderate to good condition. They are marked way below the original price, and kayaks are part of this sale sometimes, depending on if the store has had any kayak returns. Unfortunately, garage sales are temporarily suspended due to Covid-19, but REI has plans of bringing them back.

5 – Cabela’s Kayak Sales

Cabela’s was acquired by Bass Pro Shops in 2017. While there are still some differences between the stores, many major sales events are now similar. The annual boating sale mentioned under Bass Pro Shops also occurs at Cabela’s, and Cabela’s also has a Bargain Cave webpage to search through for clearances and deals.

Cabela’s, like Walmart, will have many of their sales events around the holidays. Cabela’s offers major sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Choosing the Right Kayak to Buy

When buying a kayak, there are several things to consider. Kayaks come in many different types and designs, with some being made for general use, while others are made for specific environmental conditions. Before buying a kayak, you should know what type of paddling you intend on doing.

It’s important to know what type of water sources are near you and choose where you plan on paddling. Different water conditions have varying difficulty levels, and kayaks are often made to suit certain water types. For instance, longer and thinner kayaks are designed for lake and ocean paddling, while short kayaks are generally made for white water paddling.

Purchasing a kayak made for the type of water you’ll be paddling will get you the best experience out of owning a kayak. General use, “recreational” kayaks are great for calm water kayaking.

Recreational kayaks will likely not fair well in rough waters or super windy conditions. Comparatively, specialty kayaks may work fine on flat water but will be much more expensive. Thus, getting a kayak that fits your needs is essential to getting the most value out of it.

Types of kayaks vary based on water and purpose

As I mentioned, there are general use kayaks and specialty kayaks. Kayaks can generally be divided into two groups:

  1. Flat water kayaks – Kayaks made to excel on clam, flat waters.
  2. White water kayaks

Each of these can then be further separated into sub-categories. Kayaks can be made specially for the environment and purpose, such as ocean or fishing kayaks.

Kayaks can also be subcategorized as cockpit (sit-inside) vs. sit-on-top kayaks. While all white water kayaks are likely to be sit-inside, the other types vary. Sit-inside kayaks are designed so your legs are inside the boat and covered. It has an entry and exit hole around the seat.

Comparatively, sit-on-tops don’t cover your legs or have an entry cockpit; they appear more raft-like than kayaks with cockpits. Choosing one over the other is some personal preference, but each has its highest and best use.

There are 5 different types of kayaks you can buy: 

  1. Flat water kayaks – These are kayaks intended for use on water that is flat, or mostly flat, and calm. These kayaks can generally be paddled on rivers with few to no rapids. These kayaks can be paddled on class II white water rapids at the maximum, but probably shouldn’t be used to paddle rapids at all. These kayaks are also called “recreational” kayaks.
  2. White water kayaks – White water kayaks are intended for rough water and rapids. White water rapids require a good amount of technique and specialty equipment. Likewise, white water kayaks are made in a way to be able to navigate such rapids safely and efficiently. These boats are also designed to be able to roll. Meaning, if the paddler flips over, they can flip back upright without having to exit the kayak. These kayaks can also be referred to as “river” kayaks.
  3. Ocean kayaks – These kayaks are designed specially to be able to cut through waves without flipping over. They are made to be stable and sometimes are also given built-in steering equipment such as rudders. This is because these boats are typically long and difficult to turn with just a paddle. The ocean’s current can also inhibit turning, but rudders make it much easier. Ocean kayaks are often called “sea” kayaks.
  4. Fishing kayaks – Fishing kayaks are generally a bit wider and contain more storage space to hold fishing equipment. This can make them a good bit slower than other types, which is also ideal for fishing. Some have anchoring equipment included, but often at a higher cost. 
  5. Tandem kayaks – From the name itself, these kayaks are designed with two seats so that two people can paddle together. Most flat water type boats are also made as tandems. While these can be fun to use, they are hard to turn and require good teamwork and coordination from the two paddlers.

Material quality will change buoyancy and longevity

Another important consideration when purchasing a kayak is what material it’s made of. There are several ways kayaks are made that use many types of materials. There are 3 primary materials most commonly used to make kayaks:

  1. Wooden kayaks are known for being highly durable, thanks to the coating of resin and/or fiberglass. Resin usually goes on top of the wood once it has been molded and structured into the form of a kayak. However, even though the wood provides a sturdiness to the kayak, it also makes it inflexible. Wood kayaks are difficult to use in harsher conditions and likely to be damaged on hard impacts. But, wood kayaks tend to be inexpensive and light in weight, making them easily transportable.
  2. Polyethylene kayaks are made from plastic and are the most commonly seen material types in outdoor recreation stores. The plastic is highly flexible, making these kayaks able to take impacts from rocks or harsh currents. They range in price as polyethylene can vary in quality. Lesser quality plastic kayaks may not have proper weather and UV resistant finishing, meaning they are likely to warp in shape when exposed to the sun or harsh weather for too long.
  3. Composite kayaks are built using layers of Kevlar, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. Some are made using only one of these, while others use all three. They are very swift and light, making them great for racing. However, they tend to be expensive and easily damaged.

Most Kayaks Require Additional Equipment

When buying a kayak, it’s important that you know what additional equipment you’ll need. Most kayaks won’t come with a paddle or lifejacket, so these have to be purchased separately.

Like the kayaks themselves, the additional equipment can vary in design and structure to fit certain environments and conditions. Paddles especially come in all sorts of designs to suit the specific water type that will be paddled on. It’s important to know what kind of paddle your kayak requires.

Additionally, if you purchase a white water kayak, you’ll need even more extra equipment, such as a helmet, a boat skirt, and a wetsuit. A paddler’s safety largely depends on having the proper equipment. New buyers should make a checklist of the equipment they need to avoid forgetting anything.

Final Thoughts

There are many options when it comes to buying a kayak. Before buying one, you should know what type of kayak you need, the material used in it, and the additional equipment it requires.

Major outdoor sporting good retailers are the safest bet at finding a quality boat at a fair price. However, it can also be useful to visit small and independent outdoor recreation stores that sell new and used kayaks. If you’re interested in buying a used kayak, you can also check out online marketplaces like Craigslist and other boat outfitters.

Knowing the best time to buy a kayak can score you a good deal and save you a lot of money.

Steve W

I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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